Nation's airports get $66B lift

Federal legislation that would put $66 billion toward airports across the country might not even solve the runway upgrades that are needed throughout the United States. But it's a definite start.

The American Society of Civil Engineers Thursday applauded the introduction of the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2007 in the U.S. House of Representatives. If enacted, the bill would provide $66 billion over the next four years to help rebuild airports across the country and modernize the aviation system.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., is one of the chief sponsors on the bipartisan legislation, and while there is no breakdown yet as to what money will go toward what state, Petri spokesperson Debbie Gebhardt said the congressman was pleased to be a part of an effort that could signal significant improvements at a national level.

"It's a little different than the highway bill, where specific projects are earmarked," she said. "There are no individual airports in mind with this kind of funding -- it's a formula based on entitlement basis, so it doesn't necessarily guarantee anything for, say, Fond du Lac Airport.

"That said, with all the modernization efforts going forward with air traffic control systems and improving infrastructure at airports across the country, this is certainly an important bill that looks to maintain the economic benefits and quality of life that airports produce. A lot of people are flying again. "

Mike Charles, senior manager of government relations with ASCE, said the bill is an excellent effort in terms of addressing some of the country's infrastructure problems. ASCE announced earlier this year in a report card that the country was collectively pulling a D average on its infrastructure systems.

At the time, ASCE officials pointed out that while many systems may be in good shape right now, a lack of foresight and future planning knocked down a number of grades.

"This would put a lot of money into airports and take a significant step in addressing the problem that a lot of the country is experiencing in not establishing future funding sources for repair and upkeep," Charles said.

Not just airports

Only $16 billion of the proposed $66 billion, however, would go toward actual airport improvements.

"About $13 billion would go toward updating and upgrading FAA facilities and equipment and a lot of the money would also go to research," Charles said. "Now, the FAA says that there's about $41 billion worth of projects to be done at airports throughout the country, and about $18 billion of that alone is runway improvements.

"So, the $16 billion isn't going to even cover all the runway improvements that are needed, but this is a start and a very significant one. "

Charles also said that the bill's bipartisan support and the fact that a similar bill is running through the Senate right now with a $65 billion earmark points to "excellent chances" for significant FAA funding to be authorized for the 2008 fiscal year.

"The House and Senate will have to sit down together and compromise on a final figure, and there's still the matter of getting it through Congress and to the White House, but it's one of those types of bills - like the highway one - that just gets a lot of support," he said. "Congress has always been pretty good with infrastructure. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting the White House behind it too. "

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